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Aiken School Board Representatives Hear Support, Opposition for Recommendations

Representatives of the Aiken County Public School District heard opposition and support for recommendations that would move students to different schools Monday night at a town-hall meeting at Oakwood-Windsor Elementary.

At six previous town-hall meetings, the district has proposed moving students who live along the Barnwell County line and the boundary with the Savannah River Site in eastern Aiken County from Aiken area middle and high schools to schools in New Ellenton and the Jackson area after they complete Oakwood-Windsor.

If the School Board approves the recommendation, students would attend New Ellenton Middle STEAM Magnet School and Silver Bluff High School.

One parent whose children would be affected by the change said she lives closer to Williston-Elko High in Barnwell County.

“I'd' rather my kids go there than go all the way down 278 in traffic to go to Silver Bluff,” she said. “I like Oakwood-Windsor. I was actually told that it depends on what side of the railroad tracks you live on that determines whether you go to South Aiken or Aiken High.

“I had that set in stone, and now things will change to Silver Bluff and New Ellenton Middle. No, I'm just not happy at all, and it's farther from my house. My kids are not going to New Ellenton and Silver Bluff. That's going to be out of the way. I'll just go to Barnwell.”

Parents and community members also voiced opposition and support for the school district's recommendation to repurpose Aiken Middle Schools as an intermediate school for only sixth graders in Area 1.

One person at the meeting, which more than 50 people attended, said he was “totally against” the recommendation.

“Sixth-graders get into middle school, and they're scared to death,” he said. “Then, they get used to a school, but by the time they get adjusted, they'll have to transfer to either Schofield or Kennedy. That's not a good move.”

Another person at the meeting said she is “very much in favor of it,” although she added that she understood that driving students to school, as many parents at other town-hall meeting have said, could create problems for parents who drive their children to multiple schools.

“I understand parents who don't want their children to ride the school bus for whatever reason – it's going to be a nightmare – but this is what we do for our kids,” she said. “And if you think about it, it would probably be worth it.”

If the School Board approves the recommendation to create the intermediate school, it would open at the beginning of the 2019 school year, said Dr. Shawn Foster, the school district’s chief officer of Operations and Student Services.

“We have 20 months that we can engage and work through and have an extended dialogue with the community to address specific issues,” said Foster, who moderated the meeting.

District Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford responded to a question about the size of the intermediate school and who would teach there.

“The estimated size would be 600 students,” he said.

Concerning teachers, Alford said some teachers are certified to teach elementary school and can only teach sixth grade in Aiken's three middle schools.

“We'll have to take our time and look at the teachers across all the schools: Kennedy, Schofield and Aiken Middle,” he said. “But we might have teachers who say I want to be a part of that. It sounds exciting. So we'll look at certification.”

Alford said the district will review feedback from the town-hall meetings and present the information at a meeting on Jan. 6, 2018. The School Board will vote on the recommendations later in January.

Story by Larry Wood, The Aiken Standard

December 11, 2017